Amazon are ready to step up their efforts to secure TV rights for the Six Nations Championship from next year.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the retail company is now looking to build on the successful screening of the recent Autumn Nations Cup by joining the bidding contest for the most popular annual rugby tournament.
If they prove successful, it will mean some Six Nations matches at least going on to pay per view, as was the case for Wales matches in the autumn.
The tender process for rights on the next broadcasting deal, which will also reportedly include autumn internationals, has reopened after being put on hold last March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Competition insiders are also expecting bids from rival broadcaster Sky Sports, while the BBC and ITV are set to attempt a bid to renew their current £90 million-a-year deal, which expires at the end of this year’s competition.
There is strong support across the game for the Six Nations matches to remain on terrestrial television amid impressive viewing figures for the first two rounds of this year’s competition, which peaked during Scotland’s Calcutta Cup win over England, the game drawing 8.4 million viewers on ITV.
Nevertheless, the financial reality being faced by rugby unions means the prospect of some of the sport’s biggest matches moving away from free-to-air broadcasting remains a distinct possibility.
The impact of the pandemic has created something of a dilemma for rugby chiefs, who know they have to address the severe monetary hole created by Covid-19 without damaging the game’s appeal to a wider audience.
Another potential factor could be the influence of private equity firm CVC, who are reportedly closing in on a £300m minority stake in the competition and are believed to be close to Sky Sports due to their time working together in Formula One.
Even so, Amazon are now heavily tipped as a potential contender to win the rights.
England rugby chief Bill Sweeney has previously admitted that he expects Amazon to be in the picture, adding that their Autumn Nations Cup coverage had proven they were potentially up to the task.
He said: “We met with them at the end of the Autumn Nations Cup, in terms of what they were looking for it’s gone well for them.
“And they see ways it can get better again for them as well. So we would hope this would result in further conversations.”
Asked specifically on whether the competition would move behind a paywall, Sweeney said that Amazon’s ability to bring the prospect of a hybrid package of free-to-air and pay TV to the table, could well see it provide an attractive middle ground. Walesonline